During the weeks leading up to Christmas our support groups in Lambeth were at full stretch in doing their level best to care for our own and with this as a benchmark of progress the Mayoress and I accepted an invitation to visit the Crisis at Christmas Centre at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey. This location is just one of their many centres that remain open throughout the nine day Christmas period and we were pleased to endorse the work of this 40 year old charity whose organisers did a splendid job in raising funds at one our built heritage sites just before Christmas.
From the outset it was clear just how deeply the welfare reforms were cutting into the daily lives of those individuals to be found at the sharp end of vulnerability and isolation with the organisers and volunteers prepared for their services to become even more vital as we embrace 2013.
Not only in sustaining those who are `roofless’ but for a far greater number who are offered this brief respite from loneliness and being marginalised, brought about by consistently poor living conditions, leading inevitability to mental health problems and dependency. There are many regular Crisis at Christmas volunteers but for one of them this was his first time and his very first day as a `gap minder’ and so important for him to be there because he’d been through what the guests were experiencing. “Life eventually came good for me”, he explained, “in the end it worked itself out and I’ve got a front door, a warm bed with food in the cupboard and in comparison I’m a king without a crown.”
Although many of the volunteers will be with their guests, throughout Christmas and during those days leading up to the New Year there was no indication that they were having to give anything up, but rather an opportunity to spend more of their time alongside those whom they wanted to offer a type of unconditional caring and when asked about what the organisation offered the guests the plea of “Oh don’t take Crisis away” was an instant reaction. Quickly followed by, “Christmas without Crisis would mean jumping off a bridge. We need to know that this centre will be here and I’ve been coming back each year since 2008 because all I need to keep me going is here. I even get a haircut and have someone take a look at my teeth. I suppose this is my family. I do have a brother but he’s busy at this time of year with his own life but I can email from the crisis centre to keep in touch and of course thank him for the money.”